Look, watch and listen to birds

on 28th March 2008


We have been looking at birds for more than two decades now. We have been paying attention to bird identification, fascinated by the plumage, as seen in the Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) on the left. Currently there are many birdwatchers who are good at bird recognition. The Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore) has done an excellent job in this respect. This was done through courses, field trips, bird races, annual bird census, etc., all put in place in 1984 by Clive Briffett and his team.

The formation of the Bird Ecology Study Group in 2005 injected a little science to the mainly recreational activities of birdwatching. BESG, as this group has become known, introduced the study of bird behaviour.

While birdwatchers were previously mainly looking at birds, enjoying the diversity of bird life and compiling lists of species from different habitats, they have now been encouraged to observe birds. Observations on what food birds take, how they catch their food, their nesting habits, breeding ecology, interspecific interactions, etc. were collected and published in this blog.

Making such observations easily available to all was deemed crucial in encouraging birdwatchers to participate in data collection. In this respect we have been successful as evidenced by the ever increasing visitor number to our blog.

Although bird photographers were mainly sending in their photographic evidence initially, we now have traditional binocular-toting birdwatchers making behavioural observations in between listing species.

Three years into encouraging behaviour-watch, we have succeeded in making birdwatchers aware of the necessity of not just looking at birds, but also watching them. We are not stopping here but moving on. We hope to encourage birdwatchers to also listen to birds, not just looking and watching.

Birds make a series of calls and sing wide-ranging songs. Through the work of Sutari Supari, we have recordings of bird sounds. This is an excellent basic compilation. We need to improve on this, to record the entire repertoire of calls and songs of each species. Many species have more than one call and/or song. Only recently, Gloria Seow mentioned to me that she has noted that the Black-naped Oriole has a repertoire of at least seven songs.

We also need to slowly find out exactly what each call and song means. Are they made to defend territory, to attract mates, to warn others of predators?

We invite birders when out in the field to listen to birds, make notes and publish them to share these observations so that we can, together, build on our scarce knowledge of bird vocalisation.

YC Wee
March 2008

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

4 Responses

  1. I totally agree! Just identifying and photographing birds is not enough (for me). In this day and age of apalling species extinction, the least we naturalists can do is to document the bahavior of birds. I try to do that with my own blog (

    See, for example, my discussions of (a) the red-bellied woodpecker and the tomato, (b) the cormorant and the catfish, (c) the strange yellow-billed cuckoo call and (d) the owl, hawk, crows and coots at dusk on Orange Lake.

    So, folks, please post more stories about bird behavior. We already know how pretty they are, and there are a zillion good photographers out there, so please let’s also post on how smart birds are! The gray parrot is not an isolated intelligent bird species!

  2. Birding has gone far beyond hobby. I guess apart from understanding them, I believe how we should maintain or increase their food supply chain would be getting more and more important. I wonder if NParks or HDB are getting any consultation from Nature Society on designing an ecology for bird in our residential area.

    I had a pot of tree (sorry I do not know the name but it is rather a common tree that grow pretty tall and blossom, during the blossom, lots of birds would pearch on it for food) that my daughter planted after she picked its seed at nearby playground. The tree had been 2 years old, and my flower pot is kind of limiting its growth. I called NParks and West Coast Town Council if they would allow me planting the tree at my residential area. The answer was ‘NO’ as all the trees planted in our residential area are registered. They also mentioned that they had stopped planting big trees as its requires more trimming, its roots will damage public facility e.g. drain. It is all about cost, they mentioned that smaller trees require lesser cost to maintain, the tallest tree that NParks and Town Council will plant will be ‘ciku’ tree. I am worried, in the next few decades, when all these big trees are gone (like the case of Ghim Moh, forest is cleared for HDB development), birds that require tall and big trees for nesting and rest would be vanished from Singapore.

    I also noticed that nowadays, when old trees are removed, there is no new trees planted. Even if we plant some new trees now, there would be a gap in trees in term of age. Wildlife needs trees of different ages even if they are the same species. Can someone comment?

  3. Comment to Choo Teik Ju: Birdwatching and observation has greatly increased my understanding and appreciation of the ecosystem, and in our living enviroment as well. Just a comment. We can’t run away from the issue of birds being vectors of human disease. This statement is by no means intended to be alarmist nor to reduce every possible opportunity to allow our children and generations to follow a chance to enjoy these magnificent creatures.

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